Topics: Featured Equity access

Addressing Students’ Needs: Access and Equity for Students with Learning Disabilities

Great Minds

by Great Minds

December 6, 2021
Addressing Students’ Needs: Access and Equity for Students with Learning Disabilities

every child is capable of greatness.

Posted in: Aha! Blog > Wit & Wisdom Blog > Equity access > Addressing Students’ Needs: Access and Equity for Students with Learning Disabilities

Equitable instruction includes careful consideration of and planning for access by all students, including students with learning disabilities. UnboundEd, an organization focused on educational equity, describes three foundational moves in their paper “Equitable ELA Instruction”:

  1. Adopt aligned curriculum.
  2. Provide instructional support that fosters all students’ persistence with grade-level reading and thinking.
  3. Provide targeted intervention in addition to and in service of grade-level learning.

Wit & Wisdom® implementers are well on their way with a curriculum that aligns closely to high standards. But what about the next two elements? How can we truly foster all students’ persistence with grade-level reading and thinking? What if a student has a specific learning disability that you are not sure how to support with the grade-level work? Perhaps you have students who read far below grade level or who missed out on much of the previous school year. Read on for concrete ideas and inspiration from Virginia Day and Stacy Fitzwater, veteran Wit & Wisdom educators and current implementation leaders who are passionate about ensuring equity and access for every student.

What kinds of instructional supports exist within Wit & Wisdom to ensure ALL students persist with grade-level reading and thinking?

Virginia Day: I have been a special educator and certified reading specialist for 15 years. In my school-based role, I helped students, parents and caregivers, classroom teachers, interventionists, and administrators determine appropriate accommodations for instruction. I wrote Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and designed tiered intervention plans to best meet student needs.

Supports I typically used in classrooms to meet student needs included preteaching, reteaching, close reading, repeated reading, auditory supports (audiobooks, text to speech), graphic organizers, and writing scaffolds (sentence frames, sentence stems, model writing, speech to text). When I began to explore Wit & Wisdom, it was such a joy to see how the thoughtful design seamlessly built these supports directly into lessons for teachers to help students access learning and complete grade-level tasks. See below for an example of supports embedded in the Teacher Edition for one lesson in Grade 5. All lessons in each grade level include similar information for teachers. I highlighted specific recommended supports.

G5 M1 L15:

  • Support students with sentence frames:
    • The Nez Perce homeland was important to the Nez Perce/U.S. government and settlers because _________.
    • This shows that they believed in/valued ________.
  • Read aloud chapter 3, as students follow along in their copies, flagging events that contribute to the developing conflict between the Nez Perce and General Howard and his soldiers.
  • Volunteers share responses with the whole group; model how you fill in the Elaboration column, rephrasing students’ responses as needed to clarify ideas. Students may add the class’s ideas to their own Elaboration columns.
  • Encourage students to reread the passage containing this quotation on page 17 to help them provide context.

Teacher Note: Students will revisit these questions at the end of this lesson.

Scaffold: Provide students with several key events and ask them to order the events and then explain how each event deepens the conflict.

Scaffold: Support struggling readers by having them echo-read this quotation to imitate how you read with expression to capture the character’s emotions before they practice reading it independently.

Scaffold: Work with a small group of struggling readers and writers to paraphrase and elaborate on Too-hul-hul-sote’s and/or Sound of Running Feet’s quotation.

In addition to the embedded supports, every lesson provides additional suggestions for meeting student needs in the Next Steps section of the Wrap. Here is an example from the same Grade 5 lesson:

  • If students struggle with analysis of characters’ quotations and are unable to elaborate in any depth on their significance, collaboratively complete the Elaboration column for Too-hul-hul-sote’s quotation, using questioning and sentence frames to elicit elaboration from students on how the quotation reveals Nez Perce cultural beliefs and values. Students may work in pairs or small groups to elaborate on Sound of Running Feet’s quotation on page 17. Group students with similar needs and plan small group support for elaboration work in the next lesson, to set students up for support on Focusing Question Task 4.

Using these supports, when needed, helps foster student persistence with grade-level reading and thinking. Furthermore, since the supports are embedded in each lesson, collaboration and communication between educators is more efficient, and the suggestions and tools are easily accessed and integrated into the classroom experience.

What guidance do you have to support the collaboration and communication needed between educators to support students with learning disabilities in their Wit & Wisdom work alongside their IEP goals? What can this mean for intervention time?

Stacy Fitzwater: As an interventionist, classroom teacher, and administrator, I have worked with students in Grades K–8 for over 14 years. I collaborated with teachers to plan their intervention time and communicated with our special education team to coordinate schedules and support.

Again and again, my experience supports the idea that what we do for students with disabilities is good for all students. Literacy expert Sue Pimentel rightfully calls on us to “let all kids read the good stuff.” To ensure students can access and engage with the “good stuff,” I found a few key considerations for collaboration in addition to noting and using the helpful supports included in every lesson:

  • Do all core ELA and special subjects/support teachers have access to the Wit & Wisdom Teacher Edition? Do they need any support navigating resources and identifying built-in scaffolds?
  • Do special subjects/support teachers have time to collaborate with the primary ELA teacher to prepare for instruction? Completing the Module, Focusing Question Arc, and Lesson Study Preparation Protocols collaboratively can ensure that all teachers share the same vision for supporting students. These preparation protocols are free for all registered users, as part of the Wit & Wisdom Teacher Resource Pack.
  • How can classroom seating assist push-in support for students? Can you arrange for a place in the classroom where the student can sit with the special education teacher and still attend to and actively participate in regular instruction?

Let’s dig deeper into what this could look like in practice, with the specific Grade 5 lesson cited above.

  • What elements of the lesson could teachers elevate to support students with learning disabilities? Could the special education teacher and/or support staff prepare the sentence frames and provide the small group support?
  • Consider pre- and/or reteaching language and vocabulary elements by using the Deep Dive in a small group.
  • If students struggle to write in response to their learning, consider the lesson’s learning goals and adapt their response method accordingly. One of the Learn sections from the lesson cited above guides students to elaborate on evidence. If needed, could a special education teacher or support staff member take oral dictation for the student? Can the student have access to a recording or speech-to-text device, if appropriate?

These types of considerations can guide educators toward maintaining grade-level rigor and access for all students, as opposed to the common practice of modifying texts or tasks, or taking students out of class, which removes some of the access to grade-level learning.

In addition, Wit & Wisdom’s fluency passages can be a key part of additional targeted intervention that is in service of grade-level learning and aligned to the classroom work. The fluency passages in each module build fluency skills, which are widely considered low-hanging fruit for students not yet reading at grade level, and they also scaffold understanding of specific module texts. Wit & Wisdom teacher–writers carefully chose excerpts that, through repeated oral readings, help students understand grade-level texts and communicate more effectively about them.

While this guidance is just a start, hopefully it takes you further on your path toward ensuring equity through careful planning, collaboration, and access for students with learning disabilities. Make sure to check out our other blog posts this month to hear more on this important topic from current Wit & Wisdom educators. Also, take some time to read UnboundEd’s concept paper, “Equitable ELA Instruction,” and tune in to an interview with two of the paper’s authors, Alice Wiggins and Brandon White, on Melissa & Lori Love Literacy, episode 79.

For further information about supporting English language arts students based on the Universal Design for Learning principles, read here.



Pimentel, Susan. “Why Doesn’t Every Teacher Know the Research on Reading Instruction? (Opinion).” Education Week, 26 Oct. 2018,

Wiggins, Alice, et al. “Equitable ELA Instruction.” UnboundEd, 2020,


Virginia DayVirginia Day is a Great Minds Implementation Leader for Humanities, supporting districts in New England. An advocate for student success, Virginia spent over 12 years as a reading specialist/special educator in New Hampshire. Before she joined Great Minds, her belief that all students deserve access to high-quality curriculum led to part-time work as a reviewer for EdReports. Virginia is passionate about sharing the Great Minds belief that all students are capable of greatness. 


Stacy_Fitzwater_PictureStacy Fitzwater is a Great Minds Implementation Leader for Humanities, primarily supporting the southwestern region of the United States. Stacy began working with Wit & Wisdom as a coach and administrator in a public charter school in Arizona as they implemented their new ELA curriculum, which included Wit & Wisdom and Geodes. Prior to that, she served various roles with K–5 students—from an interventionist and music teacher to a lead mentor teacher. Stacy began her career in education on the East Coast of the US, where she worked with diverse student populations in grades PK–8 in Maryland, New York, and Washington, DC.

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Topics: Featured Equity access